“The blaze, the splendor and the symmetry,
I cannot see — but darkness, death and darkness.”
– John Keats, Hyperion: A Fragment
According to the UK legal charity Reprieve, “the first large array of photographs depicting the devastating impact of US unmanned aircraft (‘drone’) attacks on innocent civilians in Pakistan” go on display today at at Beaconsfield Art Gallery, 22 Newport Street, London. The show, which displays the work of Noor Behram, a 39 year old photographer from the North Waziristan Agency (NWA), runs until August 5. Reportedly, photos from 28 of 60 drone attack sites visited by Behram can be viewed at the London gallery.
Last month, the U.S. prevented a Pakistani attorney, Mirza Shahzad Akbar, who is suing U.S. authorities for the drone strikes in his country, from traveling to the United States to address a human rights conference at Columbia University law school. “If seeking justice through the law – instead of violence – is the reason for banning my travel,” Akabar said, “then mine is another story of how government measures in the name of ‘national security’ have gone too far.” Akabar has a record of cooperation with the FBI in terrorist cases, and previously consulted with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Yesterday, according to The Scotsman, “lawyers acting for relatives of those killed close to the border with Afghanistan lodged a formal case [in Islamabad, Pakistan] against John Rizzo, the former acting general counsel for the American intelligence agency [CIA], accusing him of murder for his role in sanctioning targets.” The lawyers include Akbar and attorneys for Reprieve. [See Update at end of article for comment by Center for Constitutional Rights.]
Rizzo famously told Newsweek reporter Tara Mckelvey earlier this year that until his retirement in 2008, he had been the CIA official in charge of authorizing the so-called legal assassinations, or “neutralizations” in CIA-speak, of purported terrorists by remote-control drones.
At times, Rizzo sounded cavalier. “It’s basically a hit list,” he said. Then he pointed a finger at my forehead and pretended to pull a trigger. “The Predator is the weapon of choice, but it could also be someone putting a bullet in your head.”
Rizzo was also the CIA attorney who sought approvals for CIA torture for former President George W. Bush’s “enhanced interrogation program” of torture.
Last month, according to a report by Ken Dilanian at the Los Angeles Times, President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser (and former CIA official) John Brennan told a group of academics at Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington in regards to the drone strikes, “”there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.”
But a July 18 article by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism says U.S. claims are “untrue”:
According to Brennan, Barack Obama himself has ‘insisted’ that US drone strikes are ‘exceptionally surgical and precise’ and ‘do not put… innocent men, women and children in danger’.
Yet a detailed examination by the Bureau of 116 CIA ‘secret’ drone strikes in Pakistan since August 2010 has uncovered at least 10 individual attacks in which 45 or more civilians appear to have died.
According to Reprieve’s Project Bugsplat, which has been gathering evidence on the human cost of the U.S. drone strikes, “It has emerged that up to 2,283 people have been killed by US unmanned aircraft, or ‘drones’ in Pakistan since 2004 — with the numbers rapidly escalating in the past two years under President Obama. As many as 730 victims have been wholly innocent, according to one official source.”
“Bugsplat” is said to be the term U.S. officials use for the people killed in the drone strikes. But according to journalist Allan Nairn, this highly offensive term originated in the civilian kill ratios calculated by the Pentagon in Iraq. He told Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! in January 2010:
But even when they’re not targeting civilians, which is probably most of the time, they end up killing massive numbers of civilians. The Pentagon has a word for that, too. They call it “bugsplat.” In the opening days of the invasion of Iraq, they ran computer programs, and they called the program the Bugsplat program, estimating how many civilians they would kill with a given bombing raid. On the opening day, the printouts presented to General Tommy Franks indicated that twenty-two of the projected bombing attacks on Iraq would produce what they defined as heavy bugsplat — that is, more than thirty civilian deaths per raid. Franks said, “Go ahead. We’re doing all twenty-two.” So that adds up to, you know, about 660 anticipated, essentially planned, what in domestic terms would be called criminally negligent homicide, at the least, probably second-degree murder. You might even be able to get it up to first, first-degree. And that, just if — if that was the actual toll, the bugsplat estimate of the toll on the first day, that right there would give you a third of the World Trade Center death toll, just on the first day of the Iraq operation. And, of course, the Iraq operation has gone on. And that’s essentially what’s happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Extradite Former CIA Counsel John Rizzo to Pakistan
In an excellent article yesterday, Chris Hedges discussed the conviction last week by an Argentine court of retired Gen. Hector Gamen and former Col. Hugo Pascarelli for the torture of 2,500 people during Argentina’s “Dirty War” of the mid-1970s. The state terror by the Argentine government resulted in the disappearances, torture and murder of tens of thousands, and was an integral part of the U.S.-backed, Chilean-organized Operation Condor in the region. Hedges additionally noted that a military doctor, Maj. Norberto Atilio Bianco, was extradited last week from Paraguay to Argentina for baby trafficking.
The U.S. has refused to declassify documents related to the Argentine Dirty War. The House of Representatives defeated a proposed amendment by Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey (NY) on the declassification of U.S. intelligence files regarding the 1976 Argentine generals coup and the bloody seven year dictatorship that followed.
Hedges compared the actions of Rizzo in approving targeted assassinations by drone, and the criminal negligence of targeting civilians. “Rizzo, in moral terms, is no different from the deported Argentine doctor Bianco,” Hedges wrote, “and this is why lawyers in Britain and Pakistan are calling for his extradition to Pakistan to face charges of murder. Let us hope they succeed.” Drone attacks have quadrupled under Obama from the days of the Bush administration.
The United States has had a policy of torture and assassination for many decades. It began during the Second World War, with the justification that it was necessary in the war against Hitlerite fascism and aggressive Japanese imperialism. Then it was justified as necessary to defeat the Soviet Union during the “Cold War.” For a brief historical period, assassinations and torture were outlawed by U.S. law and treaty, although the U.S. still used proxies to do their dirty work. But no one was ever held accountable legally for the decades of earlier assassination and torture. (Click here to read the CIA’s assassination manual, now declassified.)
The Obama administration has announced it has no intention to investigate or prosecute any U.S. official for torture, despite overwhelming evidence of guilt for such war crimes among former administration officials (including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, and a host of government attorneys and military officials). Following in the steps of other human rights activists, Human Rights Watch recently produced a report documenting the torture crimes and calling for investigations and prosecutions of government officials, by U.S. courts, and lacking that, by international courts, under the principle of “universal jurisdiction” for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This was the same legal principle used to indict Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.
The Obama administration is itself involved in war crimes, most notably by the increase in drone assassinations and the killing of civilians (including targeting of U.S. citizens), although it apparently has also continued the operation of CIA black sites (as evidenced by this report by Jeremy Scahill), the holding of ghost prisoners on Navy ships, backing the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo, using isolation and sleep deprivation and fear-based techniques (and possibly drugs) as part of the official Army Field Manual on interrogation, all amid claims of ongoing torture and abuse at one or more prisons at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan.
As Chris Hedges concluded in his Truthdig article the other day:
The only way the rule of law will be restored, if it is restored, is piece by piece, extradition by extradition, trial by trial. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice and John Ashcroft will, if we return to the rule of law, face trial. The lawyers who made legal what under international and domestic law is illegal, including not only Rizzo but Alberto Gonzales, Jay Bybee, David Addington, William J. Haynes and John Yoo, will, if we are to dig our way out of this morass, be disbarred and prosecuted. Our senior military leaders, including Gen. David Petraeus, who oversaw death squads in Iraq and widespread torture in clandestine prisons, will be lined up in a courtroom, as were the generals in Argentina, and made to answer for these crimes. This is the only route back.
Update, 2:50pm PDT: Center for Constitutional Rights has put out a press release on the filing of a “First Information Report” (FIR) in Islamabad, seeking an arrest warrant for John Rizzo. They make a good point about the psychological collateral damage on those who aren’t killed, but who live in proximity to such terror. Note, “last year, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit challenging the authorization for the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen in Yemen in Al-Aulaqi v. Obama, which was dismissed by the district court in Washington, DC, on jurisdictional grounds.”
In addition to the deaths and destruction caused by the strikes, the communities in the region, where more than half the population lives below the poverty line – more than three times the national average – have endured psychological trauma by living under the constant threat of bombardment. The combination of poverty and political instability has further isolated the historically distinct region from the rest of Pakistan, contributing to the lack of political will by the country’s leadership to confront the CIA’s drone program, and allowing the killings to continue largely unchallenged. The high civilian death toll has also been fuel for anti-American sentiment throughout Pakistan.